If Your Partner’s Depression Returns

Michelangelo - Jeremiah

When depression ends, a couple may blink in happy disbelief as they emerge into the light again from a long darkness in the relationship. They’ve been desperate to understand how an intimate partner could possibly have grown silent, angry, emotionally never there, reluctant to touch or talk about anything. Then suddenly they’re back, feeling great again. Life is restored. They knew such a wonderful relationship couldn’t possibly turn so bad for long.

If it’s you who’s been depressed, you know what it means to feel alive, like yourself again. It’s euphoric to feel new energy, to get your mind working clearly, to realize once more how much you love your partner. You wonder how you could have been so distant and angry.

Are you both done with depression? Unfortunately, you may not be. Some people may have one prolonged, severe period with depression but then recover and never go through it again. Quite commonly, though, a partner’s depression can return or morph into a less intense but chronic form that never really goes away.

Even if it does come back, though, it need not have the same rending effect on your relationship that it did the first time.

It’s easy to worry excessively about the chance for future episodes. That’s only natural in the early phases of the turn-around. However, it’s not much of a recovery if your life remains dominated by that concern or by a sense of doom about the future.

Empowerment through Awareness

Optimism and pessimism can both be blind and excessive. Realism about the possible recurrence of depression is important, especially if coupled with a sense of empowerment about how to deal with any further episodes.

You start with the fact that you as a couple have already survived depression once. It may feel that the experience was so horrible you just want to put the whole thing behind you and never have to deal with it again. But the fact is that you have learned a great deal, and deepening that understanding is a key to being able to handle any future recurrence.

I believe you can gain this empowerment, especially if partners can agree to work together. In a relationship, depression isn’t a solitary affair, and both partners need to be knowledgeable. Since you have been through it before, you know the signs of illness. Being alert to early indications and feeling comfortable talking to each other about them are essential steps in preventing depression from overwhelming the relationship.

It’s easy to overlook the early signs. There were many times when I felt that depression had lifted, and life at home seemed to go back to normal. I could easily downplay problems that may not have been so severe any more but that didn’t go away altogether.

Perhaps my mental habits of thinking negatively kept coming up, or I’d still tend to feel anxious about social contact, or I’d have trouble sleeping, or I’d feel a little detached from things.

Taken by themselves, these didn’t seem like much, certainly nothing like the deep depression I had been in. But there’s a lot of research indicating that these left-over problems are strong predictors that the illness will return.

Keeping up with whatever form of active treatment has been working is important until all the symptoms are gone. It was too easy for me to feel that I was back to 100% when it looked to my wife more like 50%. If both partners are working on recovery, there’s a better chance that you’ll maintain a more realistic idea about what to look for.

Partnership

In her book, Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Julie Fast urges couples to work closely together through all phases of treatment and recovery, and the approach is also effective for unipolar depression without mania.

Mary Ellen Copeland suggests writing down a plan for what to do if depression returns. She calls it a Wellness Action Recovery Plan (WRAP). You can read about it in her The Depression Workbook and get other materials through her website.

Both Julie Fast’s approach and the WRAP tool help partners get a clear understanding and agreement about how they can both take part in managing depression. The depressed person has to make the initial commitment to active treatment, but there are many ways a supportive partner can help sustain recovery.

Empowerment through Skills

The second part of empowerment is learning the skills you need to deal with depression and to keep using them, even after recovery is complete. The goal is not just ending symptoms but living the kind of life you want.

These can include:

  • the techniques of cognitive therapy to forestall negative thinking
  • an emphasis on remaining active rather than ruminating
  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle with exercise and regular sleep habits
  • dealing with anger and communication in your relationship
  • managing stress
  • being mindful of behavior patterns that are self-defeating

The list can go on. It all depends on the problems you’ve had to deal with and the most effective methods you’ve found for staying well. After a while, these become second nature. It’s especially important for both partners to be active in an ongoing process of reinforcing recovery.

Maintaining these practices and skills also strengthens resilience if depression should return. A new episode doesn’t have to be a disaster for a relationship.

(This post has been adapted from the newsletter archive.)

16 Responses to “If Your Partner’s Depression Returns”

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  1. karmen says:

    I do not think the man I fell in love with will return to that guy. I was the most wonderful 2years of my life. Reading all of the info here there is no hope, nothing uplifting to keep you in that place of hopefulness. I am so very hurt by his words and how he acts as if we were never in love. My heart breaks for him because he doesn’t even see life the same way. This site just lets you see the sad realty!!!

  2. Shannon says:

    Very good read. As someone with depression, I often find it difficult to convey my experiences to my partner. Finding support can be difficult.

  3. Erika says:

    I am here to learn about and understand depression. My husband is going through it and I am having the hardest time dealing with it. I know he suffered with it when he was younger, but now it is back. He is always such a happy person. He went through this about two years ago, but I just thought it was because of other relationship problems we were having. It lasted about three months and then he snapped out of it. Since then we have gotten married and have been super happy. But just about two weeks ago it hit him again out of nowhere. I have had depression a tiny bit, but very mild compared to his and I have always been able to pull myself out of it. So I understand what it is like to feel sad for no reason. But when he goes through it he is really mean to me. I know that sometimes you take it out on the ones you love, but i just don’t know how to deal with it. It feels like he hates me all of a sudden. Recently I did something I regret and brought up divorce. I didn’t mean it. I was just hoping it would snap him out of it and he would realize he didn’t want to lose me and what we have together. Even if it didn’t snap him out of it I was hoping he would stop being so terrible to me while he’s dealing with it. He refuses to go to the doctor and refuses to take anything or talk to anyone. He has now gone back to his mom’s and I am terrified this will end our marriage. Any advice would be very much appreciated. I have nobody who knows what I am going through to talk to. Thank you

    • Lisa says:

      How are you going, love?
      I’ve just landed on this page because my partner has recently disappeared from me due to depression, so I know it can be tough. Feel free to email me at Lisa.horan [at] bigpond [dot] com

      • karmen says:

        How are you dealing with it? I cannot seem to cope well at all. My best friend just checks out! I have to see him at work and it is like a knife in me everyday.

  4. Alexandra says:

    https://alexandracotelit.wordpress.com

    I hope my article on depression can help anyone.

  5. Maria says:

    Would like to follow your commenting guidelines because I have several episodes. This last episode has been a roller coaster where I have had some relief from depression and then it’s back again. Just finding it harder to get the energy to fight to get better

  6. Chris says:

    I have been married just over two years, but we never lived together as we were suppose to do the wedding after a year from when we got married so she still lives with parents, 2 months into being married I had an argument with her dad, was very small but lasted a long time where her dad wanted her to end the marriage so she was stuck in the middle and her dad just wouldn’t listen, after two years of being married like this where her father wouldn’t listen and she couldn’t leave her family home becoz her father said we will be dead for you if you move to his house, after two years she had a miscarriage and didn’t tell no 1 only me, after a month of the miscarriage she went on a holiday wit her mother and come bk saying I Dnt want this marriage, I went on holiday and something just hit me and felt like the spark in our marriage has gone, she’s and she flared up with achne spots on her face due to the miscarriage and her hormones were all over the place.
    After few months of still spending time together, we enjoy each others company and now her dad is ok with everything but she’s still unsure of moving in with me and carrying on with this marriage, she says something’s holding my back and tht spark is not there as much but I’m still in love with you, not as much but still in love with you, she is Deffinely depressed but will she come out of this depression and realise how much I mean to her and tht she wants to me with? I Dnt no what to do??

  7. Habig says:

    Teenagers must read this article and should do some positive rather than live isolated life.

  8. Bill says:

    I have dealt with depression for a couple years. There is always a way to turn it around, life is too short to waste on negativity. Also be ware of the drugs provided, some can be toxic and cause harsh side effects, I took natural and organic alternative which worked good for me. Good luck with everything.
    Bill, AspiringMind.com

  9. Emma says:

    A very helpful article, I am bipolar and I think its the depressive side that my husband really struggles with, I guess he just feels so useless and can do nothing to help me, although in reality he is helping me. I have been a nightmare for suddenly stopping my medication.

  10. Jordan says:

    Thanks for the article. It’s always important for people with depression to have someone (or preferably, someones) to go to for support. Of course for them to be supportive they need to know what depression is like and what to do.

  11. Sandy says:

    Hi. My boyfriend of four years took chantix 2.5 years ago to quit smoking. He went from calm, easy going and positive to a monster. He went off the medication but years later the changed man is still here. He is depressed and always in a rage over nothing. He hadn’t had sex with me in years but he will do everything but that/-he says he gets too anxious about sex. He isn’t the same man. He hangs up on me all the time and he neglects me on every level. I worry the chantix set off a depression he was slightly In when he started the medication and blew it up. He left me for 11 months but returned 8 months ago however not much has changed. He had tried medication and some therapy but will no longer discuss it with me which I find unfair I’m investing in someone who won’t share about his treatment yet his depression directly hurts me and out relationship When he is mad he has out of control rage like breaking things or saying really awful things to me. He later eats crow and the cycle starts again. Is it possible the chantix set off an underlying depression? Isn’t 2.5 years a long episode? What do I do when he gets so angry? Should I leave ? Why did he return of he wasn’t getting better and doesn’t want my help? Is it possible he is bipolar?

    A long long journey. I often wish I didn’t love him.

    It’s hurting me.

  12. John H says:

    Hi,

    I fully agree with what you say as regards continuing treatment and not stopping it as soon as some kind of improvement is noticed. I have often found a technique which I have found helpful, but then neglect to keep on doing it for an extended period. Consequently my symptoms return in due course. We must remain cognisant of our mental health difficulties every hour of every day, and constantly do the things which help us.

    John

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    If Your Partner’s Depression Returns When depression ends, a couple may be blinking in happy disbelief



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